Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement


Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.

Learning Ally 30-Second PSA

January 5, 2017 by Doug Sprei (LAE)

Note to producers and program directors: this PSA is available in MP3 and WAV format.  Contact Doug Sprei at (609) 243-5865. [audio mp3="/Portals/6/Images/blog/uploads/2017/01/Learning-Ally-PSA-iHeart.mp3"][/audio]  


For a lot of kids at school, reading a printed textbook or novel is easy. But for millions of students like me, reading is really hard, and we struggle to keep up with our friends in the classroom. Why? Because we're dyslexic -- we're really smart, but our brains just work differently when we try to read. With your help, Learning Ally can change that.  It's a national nonprofit that’s helped millions of kids like me succeed -- and it even helps our parents and teachers too! Want to give the gift of reading to kids who need it most?  Visit Learning Ally dot O-R-G slash Get Involved to donate or volunteer. Read More about Learning Ally 30-Second PSA

How a Chance Summer Dyslexia Training Changed a Teacher's Life
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December 12, 2016 by Mir Ali

Guest Blog by Carol Stather, Slingerland Teacher and Learning Ally's December 2016 Tutor of the Month CarolBecoming a teacher was my goal since the fourth grade! After graduating from San Jose State University, I began substitute teaching. While searching for my first full-time position, I learned there would be a couple of jobs openings coming up which required a summer training course. That training, which I took, happened to be the Slingerland teacher training, an Orton-Gillingham approach. Afterwards, I was hired to teach at Eliot School, a magnet school where all the teachers were Slingerland-trained and the students were screened for Specific Language Disability (aka “dyslexia”). I didn't realized at the time that it was highly unusual for this approach to be used in the public school system.
I am so thankful to have had that experience. There are too many students out there whose parents and teachers may not recognize the telltale signs of dyslexia.
I have come to feel that the “happy accident” of falling into this line of work was perhaps not such an accident, after all! Perhaps it was the path I was destined to follow! I strive to be my students' cheerleader, to let them know that they are talented, gifted, and so intelligent in so many ways, and that they have definite gifts to share with the world! I remind them that we ALL have strengths and weaknesses, and while we need to work on improving our weaker areas, we need to also work to develop and celebrate our unique talents and strengths.

Advice for Parents

Parents should trust their gut instincts about their child's reading ability, as they know their own child better than anyone. As we know, educators (as well as the general public) have varying levels of knowledge and understanding about dyslexia. If the parent is being told that the child will “outgrow” the learning difficulties, or “it's a developmental thing”, the parent should follow his/her instincts and seek further information. TutoringWhile students can be remediated even when older, early intervention is best. Make sure the child is receiving the appropriate instruction, which should be the Orton-Gillingham approach, or one of its derivatives, as these approaches are systematic, structured, sequential multi-sensory teaching approaches. Learning Ally is a great resource for parents and students! It's so helpful for students to be able to get their books on audio for “ear reading." I like to inform parents about the events put on by Learning Ally for parents and students, including the wonderful YES! Ambassadors' presentations, where students with dyslexia share with other students strategies and technologies that have been helpful to them.
It's awesome to see these students lead other students in taking ownership of their dyslexia, identifying their own strengths and weaknesses, while also sharing this helpful information with their classroom teachers and other school educators.
It is so vitally important for our children with dyslexia, who have so many talents to share with our world, to be taught in the way the learn. Let's help them grow into the spectacular, creative and inventive people they were born to be! Learning Ally LogoIf you would like more information on Learning Ally for your child or school, visit LearningAlly.org. As a national non-profit, many of our services are either fully paid for or supplemented by donations from our supporters. Read More about How a Chance Summer Dyslexia Training Changed a Teacher's Life

Tips for Selecting a College that Will Work For You As a Blind/Visually Impaired Student
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December 12, 2016 by Mir Ali

Blog by Megan Dausch, College Success Mentor Photo of MeganLike so many students, I can still feel the ball of fear that crept into my stomach when I had to make the final decision about which college to attend. How would I choose the college which was right for me? What if I discovered, too late, that I had made the wrong choice? Many of these fears are the same ones all first-time college students face, however they were perhaps even more compounded for me because I am also blind. What really helped me determine a good fit was breaking my college search down into a process. These are the steps that helped me narrow down my choices and ultimately led me to choosing a college that matched my needs and desires. While everyone’s process for choosing a college is different, I hope that some of these tips will help you during this exciting, but often daunting, journey

Explore, explore, explore

One of the most helpful meetings I had before deciding on a college was a meeting with my high school guidance counselor. This meeting took place during my junior year of high school. There are countless colleges out there, and I really had no idea which one would be a good fit for me. We sat down and explored several questions: Did I want a large school or a small school? Did I want to move across the country or did I   prefer to stay closer to home? What was I thinking of studying? I knew I wanted a small school. I didn’t want to get lost in a sea of students. While a larger school might offer more activities and resources, I wanted classes that were small, and in which I could directly interact with my professors. I knew I wanted to study in the humanities, and at the time I wanted to major in romance languages. The school I ultimately chose had a major in romance languages, something I couldn’t find at a lot of other colleges.  While I knew I didn’t want to be too far from my family, I wanted to be far enough away so that I could feel separate and independent.
Answering some or all of these questions will give you a good starting point.  For instance, you may not know exactly what you plan on studying, but you probably have an idea of whether you're a humanities person or a science person.
Even after you have answered these basic questions, you'll probably be given a long list of choices. Explore the websites of the colleges you are interested in to learn more about what they have to offer.

Look at the financials

While it’s not a fun topic to discuss, college often requires some kind of financial commitment. How will you pay for college? Will you receive support from your state Vocational Rehabilitation Agency? Will you get support from your family? Will you need to take out student loans to cover the cost? If so, think about the future, and how much debt you are willing to take on. One of the many factors that helped me choose my school was that I received a generous scholarship. When I was researching colleges, I noted that the school I ended up choosing offered many scholarships for academic achievement. I felt that this was something to value when making my decision about where to go, especially since many of the other schools I was accepted to did not offer scholarships strictly based upon academic achievement in high school.

Visit in person

College StudentsIf you're able to, visiting as many schools  in person as possible will allow you to interact with students, walk the campus, meet with the Disability Service Office (DSO), and generally gain an idea of what the campus culture feels like.
This can be especially important for blind and visually impaired students; sighted students have access to pictures of the campus, but blind and visually impaired students need to walk the campus to gain a good idea of its layout.  
Make sure you are comfortable with the location of the DSO. I liked that my college’s DSO was in the library—a short walk from the freshman dorm and the main classroom building. For me, visiting my top choices was probably the most important step in this process, as it  helped me to narrow my options.  I immediately felt comfortable on the very small campus of the college I ultimately chose. The student body overall appeared very friendly, and I found the administration and college president accessible on my first visit. For more tips on making the most of your campus visit, you can read my other article on this topic on the Learning Ally website.

Location, location, location

While most of what you need will be on campus, research what else is around the school. Does the school offer bus trips into the town or a nearby city? One aspect that attracted me to my college was its proximity to New York City. The college offered frequent bus trips to the local town and into New York City. Students were able to purchase steeply discounted tickets to Broadway shows, and the school provided a bus directly to the show and back to the campus. This was a great way for me to meet other students while taking advantage of my access to the arts.

Find out  about on campus clubs and activities

While finding out about academics was my top priority, I wanted a school with a vibrant extracurricular life, too. When exploring my college’s website and visiting the campus, I noticed that there was a plethora of clubs and activities. Giving back to my community has always been important to me; throughout my high school career I volunteered with soup kitchens and organizations that would let me give back. I was delighted to find out that community service played a vital role in my campus community. I was able to teach English to English-language learners as well as volunteer my time with teenagers in need.

Make a list of pros and cons

If you’re stuck deciding between several colleges, try writing down lists of traits you like about the colleges as well as traits that you wish were different. Sometimes, just getting your thoughts down in writing can give you a clearer picture of the situation. Writing down my thoughts about the various colleges I visited and reading them back later helped me make my final decision about where I wanted to go. Ultimately, your college experience will be determined by what you put into it. Regardless of whether you go to a large university or a small college, you will define what you take away from your classes and friendships. If you end up not liking the school you ultimately choose, remember you can always look into transferring. College ultimately is not about which of your top ten you attend, but about what you do while at the school and what you take away once you leave. Learning Ally LogoTo learn more about Learning Ally's College Success Program, visit LearningAlly.org/CollegeSuccess. This program is provided free of charge thanks to the generosity of our donors       Read More about Tips for Selecting a College that Will Work For You As a Blind/Visually Impaired Student

3 Keys to Helping Struggling Readers Succeed
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December 8, 2016 by Mir Ali

Guest Blog by Rafael Scarnati Executive Director at Learning Foundations Cognitive Training Center Learning Ally's December 2016 Specialist of the month Rafael Close UpMy parents were both teachers (that's how they met) and I started teaching right out of college.  After only three years, I realized that no matter how hard I tried to motivate some of my students to be successful, it was just not enough. I never received any training on identifying or working with students with dyslexia, so I had the same misconceptions as most other educators do.  I was taught that using colored paper would solve the problem for my dyslexic students. It wasn't until I read Overcoming Dyslexia and learned about Orton-Gillingham methods through Susan Barton that a passion ignited in me to help students with dyslexia overcome their unique challenges.  Now, I get to work with these students all the time and see them grow and thrive in many important ways.

In my mind, there are 3 keys to help struggling kids and teens overcome their reading challenges:

1) Intervention - This is key.  Using multisensory, structured language instruction in a 1 to 1 setting will give the child the underlying tools he or she needs to become a comfortable, efficient and confident reader and speller. 2) Accommodations - These help make the educational experience more enjoyable for the child.  This helps them go from hating books and reading, to actually enjoying them and wanting to read more.  Audiobooks play a very important role here as they allow kids to continue to love stories, and continue to learn content from textbooks without the stress and anxiety that print-reading produces.  Learning Ally is an incredibly valuable tool for all of our students.
What Learning Ally has that is worth much more than the price of membership is that all of their books are read by actual people.  This is critical when trying to get an already struggling student to comprehend by allowing him or her to pay attention to the tone, volume and prosody in the reader's voice.
3) Development of natural strengths -  Often forgotten is the fact that people with dyslexia have a lot of natural talents and abilities.  Kids and teens with dyslexia should be allowed ample time to develop those skills.  Extra curricular activities such as acting, robotics, martial arts, dance, Junior Achievement, playing with Lego's or Minecraft etc, will allow kids to continue honing skills and talents that won't get graded in school, but are still very marketable career skills. Visit with CongressmanAt our free parent information sessions, I hear a lot of the parents concerns, grievances and fears regarding their children's struggles.  They often are very emotional since many of them are going through the same frustrations.  It gives me immense joy to see those same parents a month into their child's program with a sense of optimism and pride.  Even more so, is to hear the success stories from parents and from the kids themselves.
As I write this, a grandparent in our waiting room just shared that her granddaughter was so proud to read out loud to her, her dad and grandpa for the very first time.  She had tears in her eyes, and so did I.
Learning Ally LogoFind out more about dyslexia, audiobooks and resources by visiting LearningAlly.org. We have a tutor and specialist network, student-to-student events, and teacher and parent support.       Read More about 3 Keys to Helping Struggling Readers Succeed

Over $7,000 in Door Prizes at Online Dyslexia Conference!
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November 20, 2016 by Mir Ali

Spotlight LogoWe are so excited about the support we are receiving from our partner organizations for our upcoming December 2nd online conference, Spotlight on Dyslexia! If you attend, you will be entered to win one of the following by earning points for participating in the conference platform: Barbara Esham, Author of Adventures of Everyday Geniuses
  • 1 signed copy of Mrs Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets Book-signed by author 1 $10 yes
  • An Author visit from Barbara Esham for your school
  • Livescribe Echo Smart Pen with tablet paper
  • Additional Signed Books
  • 3 - $30 gift certificates for the BrainSpring Teacher’s Store gift certificates
Brookes Publishing
  •  2 - Speech to Print-Language Essentials for Teachers by Louisa Moats
  • 2 -  Speech to Print Workbook Book by Louisa Moats
Decoding Dyslexia MA and Max'Is Creations
  • 2 - Mug With a Hoop-Baseball
Don Johnston
  • Package including a copy of Don Johnston's book, Building Wings: How I Made It Through School.
  • 2 - Canvas tote bag with Drexel School of Education swag and a signed copy of Dr. Reisman’s book Creativity: A Bridge Between Education & Industry
Door PrizesEveryone Reading
  • Free admission to 44th Annual Everyone Reading conference CUNY 3/13-3/14
Gina Cooke of LEX:Linguist-Educator Exchange
  • LEX InSight Words Volume 1
  • A LEX gift card for $25
HighNoon Books
  • InfoMAG Set A, Non-fiction series of 6 books, 1st grade readability, 2-9+ grade interest level
  • Leela and Ben Mysteries, Fiction series of 5 books, 1st grade readability, 3-6 grade Interest Level
Landmark School
  • Executive Function: Foundations for Learning & Teaching by Patricia Newhall
Learning Disabilities Association of America
  • A signed copy of Jerome Schultz's book, Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It
  • LDA Resource Guide
  • One Complimentary registration to LDA's 54th Annual International Conference 2/16 through 2/19/17 in Baltimore MD
Decoding Dyslexia Texas
  • 4 tickets to the ICE event at the Gaylord Hotel in Washington DC. Experience the magic of ICE! featuring Christmas Around the World as you walk-through larger-than-life colorful holiday displays. Enjoy more than TWO MILLION pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures kept at a chilly 9 degrees as you celebrate cultural holiday traditions from the United Kingdom, Germany and more!
  • Gift Certificate for a free Comprehensive Orton-Gillingham training
Decoding Dyslexia TN
  • Signed copy of Dyslexia Boy by Jason Oliver
Learning Ally
  • One individual Learning Ally membership new or renewal
Lorraine Donovan
  • Signed copy of A Child's Touchstone: Dyslexia Guidance for “Less than Perfect” Parents, Teachers and Pediatricians
Decoding Dyslexia USA
  • Signed copy of Integrated Decoding and Spelling Instruction Based on Word Origin and Word Structure
Mark Brugger, Conference Organizer MulitSensory Reading Center
  • 5 - A free consultation and assessment of your child’s reading level free consultation and assessment
  • Schools Dyslexia Package for 1 Year Dyslexia Quest Screening for 1 student, 1 Year Nessy Reading and Spelling, and 1 year Nessy Professional Development for 1 Teacher
Pearson Clinical Assessment
  •  KTEA-3 Form A Complete Testing Kit KTEA-3 Form A Complete Testing Kit
PQBD Jewelry
  • Silver pqbd pendant jewelry with dyslexia symbol
Project Read
  • Project Read: Report Form Process Guide guide
Empower Learning Center/See The Beauty in Dyslexia
  • Introductory SWI Class with Empower Learning Center, online or live format
Shadow Project
  • 2 - signed copy of The Boy Who Learned Upside Down
  • 1 year Sonocent Audio Notetaker License
Spelling Success
  • Spelling Success Games, 1 set of 3 spelling games
Times Tales
  • 4 - Multiplication Program for Dyslexia Times Tales DVD
  • 2 -  Book: Zone Cleaning for Kids Chore System for Kids w/Dyslexia
Vaughn Lauer
  • Signed Copy of When the School Says No, How to Get The Yes
  • 3 -Free One on One consultation with Dr. Vaughn Lauer
Wilson Language
  • Wilson Reading System Introductory 3 Day Workshop Wilson
Cozy Phones
  • Soft Fleece Purple Froggy Headphones for kids
  • Cozy Phones Paul Headphones Soft Fleece Green Froggy Headphones for kids
Learning Ally LogoIt's not too late to sign up! See the full conference agenda and save your spot by visiting LearningAlly.org/DyslexiaConference today. Spotlight on Dyslexia is live December 2nd with ability to continue watching the recorded conference until February 2nd. It's great for teacher professional development!   Read More about Over $7,000 in Door Prizes at Online Dyslexia Conference!